D.C. POST parents conduct media campaign ahead of charter board vote to approve LEARN PCS

Next Monday evening, the DC Public Charter School Board will vote on whether to allow LEARN Charter School Network, a Chicago charter management organization, to open a school at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.  In anticipation of the decision, the POST, the Ward 8 Parent Operator Selection Team, has conducted a social media campaign to have their selection of a charter operator approved.   Its members write:

“The entire process we participated in was designed to put parents in charge. So we were especially pleased to find that not only did LEARN present well, they listened to us and asked us some great questions. We wanted a school operator that would listen to the needs of the parents and children and our two communities—not just while we are evaluating them, but during the planning and after they open. We feel that LEARN will do that.”

I’ve documented in the past the highly detailed and lengthy work the parents involved in the process to select a school conducted, a project that was facilitated by Irene Holtzman, the executive director of FOCUS, and Maya Martin, executive director of PAVE who would become the new school’s board chair.  I especially enjoyed reading the case study of the POST’s effort.  The team has been highly engaged, evidenced by the fact that my skeptical comments about the charter’s academic results were met by two different uncoordinated communications to me by prominent members of the school choice community.  These resulted in my participation on a conference call with a couple of the leaders of LEARN.

It’s an interesting concept to have parents make the decision about the selection of a school.  The argument reminds me of the position I’ve heard many times asserted by Jeanne Allen, the founder and chief executive officer of The Center for Education Reform.  She consistently states that whether a charter school is permitted to operate should be determined by its popularity with parents and students, and not by an authorizer that has established accountability standards, particularly around standardized test scores.  She believes that charters should develop their own goals and it is the successful meeting of these objectives that should be judged by the body that oversees these schools.

This is not how the movement has operated here in the nation’s capital.  Many charters have been closed, the most recent being Excel Academy PCS, despite the strong belief by parents that this is where they want to send their children.  The DC PCSB has insisted that it knows best which schools should be open and closed, and it has made these decisions under its authority through the School Reform Act, which have revolved around academic and financial results.

It will be fascinating to see whether this tradition continues next week.

 

D.C. charter school lawsuit continues; a second one should be filed

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported last week that the ruling issued almost exactly a year ago by a federal judge against the FOCUS coordinated charter school funding inequity lawsuit brought by Washington Latin PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, has been appealed.  A federal judge heard oral arguments on November 5th that mostly revolved around whether it is appropriate that the matter be heard in federal court.  The original legal action by the plaintiffs claimed that charter schools receive less money in revenue from the city compared to the regular schools, a figure that has totaled $770 million from 2008 to 2015, and equates to $1,600 to $2,600 per pupil every year.

The supplemental payments to DCPS have come mostly in the form of services the regular schools receive for free that charters do not, such as building maintenance and legal assistance.

The most significant information coming out of Ms. Stein’s story is that legal representation for the charter schools is now being provided by an attorney from WilmerHale, a law firm handling the case on a pro bono basis.  The attorney replaces Stephen Marcus, who was intimately involved in this lawsuit even before it was brought before the court four years ago.

The charter school argument is based upon the School Reform Act.  Passed by Congress and incorporated into local law by the D.C. Council, it states that all financial support for public schools, both charter and traditional, must come through the Uniform Per Student funding formula.  This means that the additional no-charge benefits that DCPS has been receiving over the past twenty years are illegal.

The current situation is unjust and is harming charter schools’ ability to care for the almost 44,000 children sitting it its classrooms.

It is, in fact, difficult to find a more straightforward public policy.  However, you are in luck.  Because on this dark and cold November morning I have found one more, a legal rule that I consider practically a tie in clarity with the dictate on the manner in which our schools receive their operating cash.  Ready, here it is:

All excess DCPS buildings will be offered to charter schools on a right of first offer basis.

As I pointed out yesterday, it is estimated that there is approximately one million square feet of vacant or underutilized DCPS facility space to which charters cannot get access.  An empty site has not been turned over to charters for about four years.  This is severely negatively impacting their ability to expand and replicate.  Now I will ask you a really simple question.  It is early so I don’t want to make it too difficult.  If charters can sue over illegal funding should not the sector also mount a court battle over access to physical structures?

I’ll await your response.

 

 

 

Blockade of turning vacant school buildings over to charters is a problem in many other cities besides D.C.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago C.J. Szafir, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, and Cori Peterson, a researcher and writer at the Institute, in a piece entitled “This Building Is for Sale, but Not to a Charter School” tell the exceedingly frustrating story of charters trying to obtain the use of vacant traditional school buildings in Milwaukee and other localities.  They explain:

“The Milwaukee Public Schools currently have at least 11 vacant school buildings and 41 schools operating below 70% capacity—and, according to a report by a consulting group hired by MPS, empty seats are expected to increase by 63% over the next 10 years. Many parents have turned to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, passed in 1990, which provides low-income children with vouchers for private schools. Over the past decade, enrollment has increased 45% at MPCP schools and by 47% at the city’s charter schools. Many charter and MPCP administrators would like to expand by acquiring vacant public-school buildings.

St. Marcus Lutheran, which has a student body of around 900 and ranks in the top 1% statewide among schools with a majority of low-income and minority students, offered $1 million in 2013 to buy Malcolm X Academy, a large public-school campus that had been closed since 2008. The Milwaukee Board of School Directors said no and instead chose to sell the site to 2760 Holdings LLC, a newly formed corporation registered to a pair of construction-business operators. That deal fell through, and in 2016 the school district opted instead to spend $10 million relocating the struggling Rufus King Middle School and its roughly 400 students to the Malcolm X campus.”

Sound familiar?  It should.  Last June D.C. Mayor Bowser announced that five surplus DCPS buildings were being turned over to developers.  In the nation’s capital there is an estimated one million square feet of space that could be utilized by charters to grow and replicate.  Yet, not one former classroom building has been offered to a charter for almost four years.

The authors of the Wall Street Journal editorial continue:

“In November 2016 Rocketship, a charter school that performs in the top 5% statewide, attempted to buy an MPS building. In the final stage of the negotiation, MPS demanded that Rocketship, which is chartered by the city, obtain a charter from MPS instead. This would allow the district more control over the school. In 2017, because of the ultimatum and protests by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the deal fell through. (MPS declined to comment.)”

On to Detroit:

“In 2017 Detroit ranked last in proficiency out of 27 large urban school districts with a measly 5% of fourth-graders proficient in math and 7% in reading. The Motor City is home to one of the largest charter systems in the country; more Detroit students are enrolled in charters than in traditional public schools. The Detroit Public Schools have 22 vacant buildings, but as in Milwaukee, the education establishment isn’t eager to sell.

In 2017 DPS did everything it could, even manipulating deed restrictions, to block charter school Detroit Prep from buying an abandoned building. ‘It seemed that Detroit Public Schools’ perspective was that they could use their size and power to wait us out and, ultimately, put us out of business,’ said Kyle Smitley, Detroit Prep’s co-founder and executive director. The sale was completed only this summer, after litigation, public outrage and the enactment of legislation to prevent deed restrictions on schools.”

Lastly they point to Indianapolis:

“In Indianapolis, only 1 in 4 students passed the state proficiency test last year. From 2006 to 2016, Indianapolis Public Schools’ overall test scores declined 22%. The district announced in June that it would close seven schools. Purdue Polytechnic High School, which is chartered by Purdue University, tried to buy the vacant Broad Ripple High School building but received pushback from Indianapolis Public Schools. Elected officials convinced the district to consider Purdue’s offer, but the school’s leadership announced in August that they were no longer interested.”

Just last month, New York City’s Success Academy called out Mayor de Blasio for severely curtailing the use of vacant regular school system buildings by charters.  As reported by Selim Algar in the New York Post, “Citing a study from the Manhattan Institute, Success Academy said Thursday there are 192 DOE buildings with at least 300 available seats and that some schools have up to 1,000 empty spots.”

Back in D.C., Ms. Bowser offered this justification last summer to United States Senator Ron Johnson to explain her failure to comply with the law that states that charters get right of first offer for empty DCPS facilities:

“As you noted, District of Columbia law gives public charter schools the right of first offer when school facilities are designated as excess.  However, the law does not require the District to designate every vacant or underutilized school as excess.”

But then what about the five buildings she sold?  If you want to know why our children may become confused as to what constitutes the truth or a falsehood you just have to follow the twisted logic of our city’s chief executive.

 

Growth of D.C. charter school sector comes to a screeching halt

Yesterday, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education released the audited enrollment data for the 2018-to-2019 school year, and for the first time since the charter school movement began teaching its first students in 1998, the percentage of pupils being taught in this sector compared to those enrolled in DCPS declined compared to the previous year.  The change is small but the implication is humongous.  47 percent of all public school children in the District of Columbia attend a charter school.

This year 43,958 students have signed up to go to a charter school compared to 43,393 during the 2017-to-2018 school term, representing a one percent increase over the last 12 months.  However, DCPS saw its student body increase by two percent, going from 48,144 pupils on the count last October to 49,103 this fall.  92,994 students now attend public school in the nation’s capital, which represents ten years of growth.

The reaction to this news yesterday by Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, may not be the one you would expect.  He posted on Twitter:

“For the 10th yr enrollment has increased in public schools but the 1st time the percentage of DC charter school students has gone down. This slight decline reflects our commitment to opening good schools and closing low-performing ones. It’s about quality and choice, not numbers.”

My blood pressure is going up so much right now that I can hardly sit in my chair to write these words.  Yes, of course, public education reform is about quality and choice but it is fundamentally about providing each and every child a good education no matter where they live.  However, we are so far away from this goal despite the fact that so many of us have been working and fighting and arguing and sweating and giving our hard-earned money to turn this situation around.  This is the civil rights struggle that I’m afraid will never be corrected.  Not when the leader of our sector states that we don’t have to worry about the numbers.

In 2012, The Illinois Facility Fund estimated that our city was in need of approximately 40,000 quality seats in our schools.  Last April, the DC PCSB reported there were 11,317 students on charter wait lists.

I have spoken to so many frustrated parents who cannot get their children into a high-performing school.  I have spoken to so many frustrated parents that cannot get their children into a high-performing school.  I have spoken to so many frustrated parents that cannot get their children into a high-performing school.

Charters teach their kids but they don’t get the same amount of money that the regular schools receive.  The founders have to beg to obtain a building in which teachers can practice their profession.  Then, on top of all this, they get to provide information on every detail of their operation to the PCSB.

We have to start over.  We need someone, anyone, who will go to bat for these alternative schools that are literally closing the academic achievement gap for the first time in the history of public education.  We need to figure out how every child, even if they are poor or black or disabled, can get access to what others have been so fortunate to be able to obtain.

 

 

 

 

Negatives and positives of D.C. charter board 2018 Performance Management Framework rankings

Last week the DC Public Charter School Board released the results of the 2018 Performance Management Framework charter school rankings and, as usual, there were fascinating findings.  Let’s start with where the board does in announcing the scores, with the fact that there are more students than ever, estimated at 20,717 or 47.3 percent of all students enrolled in charter schools, that attend Tier 1 institutions.  The number has gone up from 19,498, equating to 45.0 percent of pupils, the year before, and approximately 17,385 pupils, a proportion of 41.3 percent, that attended Tier 1 charters during the 2016-to-2017 school year.  All of this is great news.  The charter board also pointed out that nine schools have moved from Tier 2 to Tier 1 and that “nearly nine out of the ten public charter high schools either earned a Tier 1 rank or improved overall from the previous year.”  This is another strong trend.  Now let’s dive into the individual school results.

On the worrisome side, Breakthrough Montessori PCS, in its first PMF ranking, came in at 28.8 percent, which is a solid Tier 3.  DC Scholars PCS dropped from 54.1 percent to 37.4 percent, which makes it a low Tier 2 facility.  Eagle Academy PCS Congress Heights Campus, its primary location, dropped a staggering 26.2 percent, going from Tier 2 to Tier 3 at 34.2 percent.  I know school leader Joe Smith and I’m sure that this number will not be allowed to stand for his young scholars in Anacostia.

National Collegiate Preparatory PCS is now a Tier 3 school for three years in a row, so look for this charter to be closed.  Paul PCS Middle School went from 45.3 percent, a Tier 2 school, to 34 percent, now ranked at Tier 3.  Sela PCS, which changed leadership this year, lost its Tier 1 status after two consecutive years to fall to 60.7 percent, a Tier 2 number.  Summerset Preparatory Academy PCS is also at Tier 3 for three years in a row, so its future does not look promising.  Finally, and surprisingly, Two Rivers PCS Young Campus came in at 51.4 percent, a Tier 2 ranking, from 73.6 percent or Tier 1 in 2017.

Now on to the good news.  Achievement Prep PCS Walter Place Elementary, jumped out of Tier 3 status to Tier 2, improving from 32.3 percent to 46.6 percent.  I cannot help recognizing AppleTree Early Learning PCS Columbia Heights Campus that scored an amazing 80.9 percent, Tier 1 territory, after being at 68.6 percent last year, which is still at the Tier 1 level.  For the same charter management organization, the Southwest Campus grew from 58.8 percent in 2017, which equates to Tier 2, to 72.9 percent this year, which makes it a Tier 1.  Bridges PCS left Tier 3 at 34.5 percent going to Tier 2 at 42.3 percent.  Capital City PCHS improved to a Tier 1 83.6 percent from a Tier 1 65.3 percent last year.  DC Prep PCS Benning Middle Campus joined the Tier 1 group at 68 percent after being at 59.1 percent or Tier 2 twelve months ago.  Its Edgewood Elementary School was Tier 1 last year at 74.7 percent and now is at a bright 85.1 percent.

Friendship PCS Technology Preparatory High recorded a tremendous 77.9 percent at Tier 1 going from a Tier 2 54.5 percent in 2017.  Its Woodridge International Middle changed from a Tier 2 54.5 percent to a Tier 1 74.7 percent or Tier 1.  I count five out of 12 Friendship campuses being at Tier 1 with the remainder being at Tier 2.  I wonder what founder Donald Hense says about the PMF now?

Harmony PCS said goodbye to Tier 3 at 30.8 percent in 2017 and landed in Tier 2 at 45.4 percent.  Perry Street Preparatory PCS went up 9.1 points to a Tier 2 60.9 percent, and its PMF score has gone up three years in a row.  Washington Latin PCS Upper School, the charter for which I was once board chair, increased its Tier 1 status to 93.4 percent.  Washington Leadership Academy PCS, in the first year that it was ranked, scored at a Tier 1 84.8 percent, and finally, the National Alliance of Public Charter School’s Hall of Fame inductee Washington Yu Ying PCS, came in at 93.8 percent, a Tier 1 score.

In all of these figures I also could not help noticing that the schools that are working with Josh Kern’s TenSquare Consulting Group all showed signs of improvement, including Cesar Chavez PCS whose Prep Middle School has received so much press due to its union activity.  A TenSquare press release states,  “After a full year of implementing TenSquare’s multi-year school improvement strategy, ratings for the charter support organization’s clients in the District Columbia have increased 7-9 points, and 15-20 points within two years. At TenSquare’s partner schools in DC, between one-half and three-quarters of students are at-risk, and 12%-20% receive special education services.”

I have only highlighted the significant changes in PMF scores here and I do not want to take away from the great work that many of our city’s charters are doing to educate our children.  Here is the list a the top ranked charters.  Please do yourself a big favor and get your day off to an excellent start by reviewing the outstanding standings of these schools.

 

 

 

Fight Night D.C. 2018 was the place to be

I have to give tremendous credit to Fight for Children CEO and President Keith Gordon and his team.  I don’t know how they do it, but each year Fight Night gets better and better and last Thursday night was no exception.  Please allow me to take you inside.

The gala started with the reception and silent auction.  This part of the evening has customarily served as the prelude to the main event inside the Washington Hilton’s ballroom.  However, the initial portion of the festivities has become more substantial, and now competes for utter enjoyment with the formal program.  First of all, several attendees commented to me positively regarding the Code of Conduct that greeted them at the entrance.  It was a classy touch that seemed perfectly appropriate in the wake of the #metoomovement that had the organizers replace the women hostesses in red gowns of previous years with male and female waiters in sports officiating attire.

In the middle of this hall was an elevated square stage with a disc jockey in the middle spinning high-energy tunes.  On each of the four corners were individuals in the waiter’s uniform providing interpretive dancing to the music.  Throughout the room were a plethora of open bars plus the availability of signature drinks from a wide variety of liquor purveyors.  Since I felt that my job as a reporter was to completely experience the offerings I tried the “Dominicana” from Brugal Rum.

The theme of the event was “Progress in Play” that echoed Fight for Children’s new strategic direction around supporting high-quality organized sports activities for low-income youth.  Therefore, found interspersed between the items for bid were placards highlighting the work of six recent grantees that support this mission, as well as other posters extolling the academic benefits of participating in athletic activities for students.  This information was also available on rotating basis on a gigantic screen located at the back of the room.

Naturally, professional team mascots filled the room such as Screech from the NatsWizards cheerleaders posed for pictures with the attendees, and as has been the case recently, there were games that guests could play stationed along the perimeter while enjoying refreshments including hot dogs and hamburger sliders with hot pretzel nuggets.  Participants tried their hand at shooting baskets, sinking golf balls on a putting green, becoming a boxer hitting a punching bag, or driving hockey pucks into holes on a target.  One of the most fascinating was one station that used virtual reality to simulate being a batter at a baseball game.

At one point I ran into Hilary Darilek, the CEO of E.L. Hayne PCS.  I was excited that it was recently revealed that her high school and elementary school are ranked at Tier 1 on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework and I congratulated her on this achievement.  I was also able to say hello to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.  In addition, I caught up with Fight for Children board chair Raul Fernandez, vice chairman and owner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment.  He was obviously in a tremendously good mood.  “I want to sincerely thank everyone who comes here and supports our work,” Mr. Fernandez exclaimed.  “We are on year twenty nine and going strong.  We are really looking forward to our thirty year anniversary celebration in 2019.”

I also had the fortunate opportunity to speak to Michela English, past president and CEO of Fight for Children and current board member, who over a decade has been absolutely gracious to me.

Everyone at this sold-out black-tie fundraiser appeared to be having fun.  Soon it was time to move to the dining room.  I’ve described the appearance of this space so many times but it never fails to take my breath away.  The monitors everywhere you look, all of the well-dressed men and women who prefer socializing over taking their seats, and the center stage that also serves as the forum for boxing matches is almost too much for the senses to handle.  Here I found my friend Bret Baier, host of Special Report with Bret Baier on the Fox News Channel, who is also the chief political anchor for Fox.  Mr. Baier was close personally to Fight for Children founder Joseph E. Robert, Jr during Mr. Robert’s lifetime.  He was seated near Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States.  Mr. Robert had been instrumental in arranging a $150 million grant from the UAE to Children’s National Medical Center.  Standing next to us was Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd.

The meal that included a foot-long steak was excellent as always as were the Women’s Jr. Welterwight and USBA Jr. Welterweight championship bouts.   The schedule included a moving singing of the National Anthem by Caleb Green and Bob McDonald, performances by the New Century Dance Company, a live auction, and dinner music by E3.  During this period I sat for an extended period with Ward 7 Councilmember and former Mayor Vincent Gray.  We discussed the future of Anacostia regarding public education and healthcare.

Rapper FLO RIDA was the headline entertainer.  I had no idea who he was but that was not the case with the throngs of younger audience members.  The cell phones came out excitedly from the guests, and in addition to providing a high-energy spectacle, it appears from experience that the singer excels at taking selfies with his fans from the dais.

In all the event went off as if it was a fine-tuned symphony lead by a perfectly synchronized conductor.  Fight Night, since 1990, has raised for than $65 million for at-risk children.

 

 

 

 

Tonight is Fight Night

Later this evening approximately 2,000 guests will gather at D.C.’s Washington Hilton to join Fight for Children’s Fight Night, this area’s signature gala that has raised over $65 million since 1990 for the benefit of low-income children living in the nation’s capital.  Fight for Children founder Joseph E. Robert, Jr., who passed away at the end of 2011 and who created Fight Night, would be especially proud of his organization because it has continued to evolve as it has matured.  Under the leadership of president and chief executive officer Keith Gordon and board chair Raul Fernandez, Fight for Children has established as its focus ensuring that at-risk youth are afforded the opportunity to participate in high quality sports activities.  The new strategic goal was developed in the context of evidenced-based research that shows that students involved in meaningful sports programs, compared to non-athletes, have 40 percent higher standardized test scores, are absent from school 50 percent less often, have an increased high school graduation rate by 11 percent, and are 4 times more likely to go to college.

In order to support this mission, Fight for Children has renewed its commitment as a granting institution.  Recently, it announced its financial support for five local non-profits that are helping children become socially and emotionally connected, achieve academic success, and are working to set them on the right track for a successful future.  The group estimates that more than 4,250 students next year will benefit through these awards.  The grantees are:

Beacon House – According to Beacon House’s website, in addition to its after-school academic mentoring program, it “engages over 300 boys and girls annually in an award-winning athletics program which reinforces the importance of school and the prioritization of education.”

DC Scores – Through soccer, poetry writing, and community service-learning, DC Scores provides an after-school program for over 2,800 third through eighth grade students in the nation’s capital.

Student-Athletes Organized to Understand Leadership – The grant allows approximately 100 ninth through twelfth grade students’ participation in SOUL’s College Access Study Hall (CASH) program.  Tutors, athletic trainers, and others work to break the cycle of poverty for low-income student athletes.

Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy – Through WNYBA’s YBA summer and after-schools program, 840 six to twelve your old students living in Wards 5, 7, and 8 play baseball and softball and are provided with mentors.

Washington Tennis and Educational Foundation – For children living in Ward 7, WTEF engages 150 first through twelfth grade students in its two decades old Center for Excellence program involving the playing of tennis and other educational activities.

Tonight we will celebrate the excellent work being performed by these entities and others, raise more money for under-served youth in our city, and have a great time.  Joe Robert would not want it any other way.

Ingenuity Prep PCS cannot expand; LEARN PCS may be granted a D.C. campus; that’s not fair

In my interview with Aaron Cuny, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Ingenuity Prep PCS, he explained that a strategic goal of his charter is to grow in size.  Why shouldn’t it?  For District of Columbia schools with an enrollment of over fifty percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced price meals, it ranks seventh in PARCC scores.  However, as I’ve written about before, it cannot replicate because it has not yet reached the Tier 1 level on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework.

Yet, earlier this month, the board considered the application of LEARN PCS to open a campus on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.  The Chicago charter management organization has no academic record in our city but may very well be given the green light to accept up to 712 pupils.

Something is terribly wrong here.  In order to treat charters equitably, an institution such as LEARN should have to be graded on the PMF before it can start teaching kids locally.  The charter has a 17-year track record.  Representatives of the CMO pointed out that the school that they would open in the nation’s capital would most closely resemble its LEARN 6 campus.  So I think the only reasonable and equitable path to take is to grade this site on the PCSB’s benchmark tool.  If LEARN turns out to fall in the Tier3 category of course, then its application should not be approved.

At the same time we have to allow schools such as Ingenuity Prep the right to expand.  Strong Tier 2 schools provide a significantly better education than the DCPS facilities where students are now posting PARCC results in the teens.

The expressed goal of education reformers in this town is to provide a quality seat to anyone who needs one.  By allowing Ingenuity Prep to take on more students and by grading out-of-state schools with a history of instruction on the PMF, we would take an important step in this direction.

 

“Oh! You’re the charter school candidate.” I’m not.

The title of this post is also the lead of an article by Ward 6 D.C. State Board of Education candidate Jessica Sutter.  Apparently, her opponents have tried to paint her as an individual who favors charters over traditional schools since she was once a teacher at KIPP LA and KIPP DC and because she completed her Phd dissertation on the subject of the closing of charters.

I personally like Jessica and I hope she wins her race.  This is how she summarizes her philosophy on public education:

“All of this boils down to my favorite pillar of leadership used at KIPP: If there is a better way, we find it. We as a District must keep seeking better ways forward in public education that will serve all of our students and families. Better ways are not sector-specific. We’ve got a great deal to learn from all of our schools and I support a robust, equitably-resourced system of public education that meets the needs of all our students—no matter where they live.”

Unfortunately, her policy position is critically flawed.  This is the type of thinking that is actually harming school reform in the nation’s capital.  It is vitally important that those of us who desperately want to close the academic achievement gap, and bring an end once and for all to the cycle of poverty, be sector specific.

I say this for a couple of fundamental reasons.  First, in the charter environment good schools are permitted to grow and replicate, while poor performing ones are closed.  There is absolutely no equivalent to this scenario when it comes to the regular schools.  In regard to DCPS, those facilities that are scoring at the bottom in standardized test scores are permitted to just keep on committing the educational malpractice that has characterized their historical performance.

Second, charter schools are provided with the autonomy to determine how best to educate its students.  There is no top-down bureaucratic control exerted by a centralized office.  We may argue among ourselves, and I have certainly played an active part in this discussion, how much freedom charter schools in our city are actually provided by the DC Public Charter School Board, but the bottom line is that operating as a school of choice is vastly more liberating than working under the rules controlling a DCPS facility.  Think of Fedex versus the United States Postal Service.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1990 people fled to the democratic west away from the communist east.  Just six years later, parents in D.C. flocked as fast as they could to the new schools being created by the charter board.  Competition has forced DCPS to greatly improve from those dark days.  However, if we want to get to where we really need to go, if we want innovation to allow us to reach the point where a child’s education is truly finally independent of their address, then we have to – with all of our might, energy, and resources – come down on the side of charter schools.

 

 

 

LEARN DC PCS most likely not to be approved by charter board

Last Monday evening the DC Public Charter School Board considered the application of LEARN DC PCS to open a Pre-Kindergarten three to eighth grade school on the grounds of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB). As you recall, this charter management organization was selected by the Parent Operator Selection Team (POST), a group of four military and four Ward 8 parents, through a request for proposal to submit an application to open the new school. As I detailed previously, the POST was aided by an advisory board that included Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE) and other community members, and it received financial support from Education Forward. The charter would begin operating during the 2021-to-2022 school year and grow to teach 712 pupils. In addition, the AppleTree Institute would be contracted to manage Pre-Kindergarten three and four.

From the minute the public hearing began, you could tell that the PCSB was skeptical of the bid. I want to be careful here. It was absolutely clear from the testimony of many on this night, especially that of Maya Martin, the founder and executive director of PAVE who would become the school’s board chair, that the POST did some extraordinary work over the past twelve months. It met two to three hours every other Saturday to learn about the educational landscape in the city, and through guest lectures by groups such as the PCSB and EdOps, to understand the national and local charter movement. It was this team that eventually settled on LEARN to open the charter that would offer an admission preference of up to half of its enrollment to military families.

However, here is where the process may not have been ideal. It was revealed at this session that the POST received responses to its RFP from three local charters and two national ones. Through a rubric analysis one local group was eliminated. Then following a SWAT review LEARN became the clear choice. Here we have the POST becoming almost a substitute to the charter board for making a school selection. Perhaps it would have been preferable to ask that all interested parties submit applications to the PCSB and then let this body decide which one gets to open. This is how it was done when a replacement for Options PCS was sought. After all, approving new schools is part of its standard operating procedures.

But I digress. The night began on a high note as representatives of LEARN DC and the LEARN Charter School Network detailed it record of having 95 percent of its students graduate high school and 83 percent admitted to college. The CMO consists of ten campuses in Chicago teaching over 4,200 students. 94 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced priced meals. Two of its schools serve children of military families.

One exciting aspect of this charter that goes up to the eighth grade is that it back fills open slots throughout the academic year and through middle school.

Mr. Gregory White, LEARN president and chief executive officer, provided numerous uplifting anecdotes about the exciting efforts of this CMO on behalf of its students.

Eventually, questions and comments from the board began to demonstrate their concerns around the charter. Saba Bireda, the PCSB’s vice chair, brought up high student suspension rates at LEARN 8, the network’s middle school. Scott Pearson, the PCSB’s executive director, commented that he visited LEARN 6 and a few of the other campuses and stated that he saw some excellent teaching and some that was mediocre. He added that other members of his group had visited all ten schools and reported back that some were better than others. One leader informed Mr. Pearson that his site was a turnaround school.

Mr. Pearson also related that the board has looked at a lot of test results and that the NWEA Map test shows that at almost half of LEARN’s schools most of the results are below average, meaning that fifty percent of students are not meeting their expected growth in math.

Another area of uneasiness with this application revolves around the proposed governance structure of the school. LEARN DC would become part of the LEARN Network, and, according to the LEARN DC application, the network would become the sole member of LEARN DC. Under this arrangement the CMO would have the following powers:

  • To approve material amendments to LEARN DC’s Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws;
  • To appoint and remove directors;
  • To approve the merger, consolidation, or affiliation of the corporation with another corporation, organization or program or the dissolution of the corporation; and
  • To approve the assumption or creation of any indebtedness of the corporation, except in the ordinary course of business of the corporation.

In other words, although the representatives from LEARN stated that the Washington, D.C. board of directors would be responsible for the success of the school, much of the authority would belong to those residing outside of the District of Columbia.

Mr. Cruz, the PCSB chair, concluded the conversation by observing that national charter school networks do not have a great track record here in the nation’s capital. Of course, with the exception of KIPP DC PCS, he is unfortunately absolutely correct. Academic weaknesses have been noted at Democracy Prep PCS, Harmony PCS, and Somerset Prep PCS. Basis PCS has been criticized for its lower-than-expected enrollment of special education and low-income students.

I have to admit that I was intrigued by the information that a couple of our town’s charters had replied to the POST RFP. In my mind, considering the deep complexities of public education in the nation’s capital, it would be best for our community and those residing at JBAB to select one of these schools.

The PCSB will vote on the LEARN DC application at its November meeting.